Postpartum Voice of the Week: Label me and put me in a box


I received the following via email yesterday. I read it as my son ate his lunch. I let it marinate overnight. This morning I decided I couldn’t keep it to myself. So I emailed the author and asked for permission to share her words with you, dear readers. Her words are powerful, descriptive, and captivating. Here’s a mom who had a glowing first pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. The second time around things did not go quite so well. Here is her story in her words.

 

This is my story.

 

Label me and put me in a box. Then tell me how to get out of it…

That is all I am asking

Please … PPD is killing me from the inside out…

Getting Pregnant, with my first little girl was easy; I got pregnant so quick I could not believe it. I had the most wonderful experience being pregnant with her. My hair was glowing; my face was rosy; I was able to exercise right up until her birth and only gained 23 pounds.

Carsen came into this world flawless and was absolutely beautiful. I felt that connection right off and was enamored by her. She was everything, she was my little mini me.

Eighteen months later we decided to try again. We knew we wanted one more whether it be a boy or girl. We couldn’t care less as long as she/he was healthy.

I was never thinking about Postpartum; it never crossed my mind. I just knew it was going to be just as easy as the first, no doubt.

Wow, was I wrong.

Started trying in December of 2007 and every month without fail I got my period up until June 2008. So me being a worrier thought the worst and went to my OBGYN.

She suggested I try fertility pills. So I tracked my cycle and tried it and I thought it had worked the first month but did not and I got my period again… By the middle of August I was exhausted from worrying and not being pregnant.

It was not until my mother told me “Janna you are so blessed, you had a wonderful pregnancy and you have a healthy daughter maybe that is what God intended for you.” It hit me and I just let it go and gave it to GOD. If I was never meant to have another child I was happy and blessed.

Then in November my period was late, but I was not even thinking about it; so on a whim I took a pregnancy test and It was positive. We were elated.

This was the beginning of my descent…

Because the election was going on, that was all that was on TV and I kept hearing about and seeing Sarah Palin’s son who had Down syndrome. Well my anxiety kicked in and I worried myself to death that the baby might have DS.

I had a CVS test done in January 2009. Everything came back normal and we found out early on we were having another little girl, we had already picked out name a year and a half ago; Marley after Bob Marley. What a relief…? No…

The next month I was upset because we were living in this little town home with no room. I spoke with my husband and we decided to put our home on the market in the worst economy since the 80’s.

I stressed myself out so much, because we could not sell our home yet we had to keep it so clean all the time and my poor sweet daughter could not play with her toys like she wanted because mommy was so scared she would run into the walls and make a mark.

We spent so much money on staging and getting the place fixed up to sell. We were still in new construction and competing with builder prices and being the smallest town home in the neighborhood was hell………

I would go to bed crying myself to sleep calling my mom and brother all the time… I did not realize how much stress I was putting on myself or my baby until I put myself into preterm labor.

I was in the hospital for six days in June of 2009……

My husband was another story.

We had been having problems since January of 09. I was dishonest with him on something and finally came clean and he was just being a jerk to me about going into pre term labor; saying I did it on purpose so he could not go to Bonnaroo (it’s a hippy thing). He went four days without speaking to me.

On top of everything else, I was gaining so much weight with her, I put on 50 pounds with her and began hating myself………daily I would look in the mirror and want to puke from the sight of my reflection………

I could not be on my feet for very long so I had to lie in the bed and watch hours of crap on TV ……… I was miserable and she was kicking me up in my rib cage so I was in pain as well…… I wanted her OUT OF ME……and during all of this we were having several showings on our home…

I look back now and think why didn’t we take this stupid thing off the market… Nevertheless, I was on a mission; I wanted out of that place.

After sitting for 45 days I was angry at my home; I was finding things to dislike about it everyday… I wanted out of that place and it was about to get worse.

Finally on July 16th Marley was born, healthy but had two birthmarks at the time both on her leg… It bothered me but not too much then.

Came home from the hospital and was on a high; however she cried all the time and we knew she cried way more than our first born. At first it was ok…… tried to breast feed plus take care of a 3 year old…… some women can; I cannot……I was not made to be super mom…… We barely slept, I was up every 2-3 hours pumping and feeding, and during the day Marley would not take naps and she cried incessantly………

Finally in August the doctors told us she had Colic. I pumped until September of 09 and finally let my boobs dry up……very painful and hard to do…

Still during all of this I was showing the house and handling a colicky baby and 3 year old… I would sit at home with Marley and stare at the walls because I was too afraid to go anywhere because she had this horrible cry that would not stop.

I was embarrassed by her for crying and she had developed two strawberries; one on top of her head and one on her forehead for all to see…

I could not stand them, did not take pictures of her. I was worried people were staring at it and also I was irritated when people would ask me what it was and say “ I hope it goes away….”

I hated it… Then I decided I wanted to start losing the 50 pounds I had put on while I was pregnant so I had a brilliant idea of starting on Phenteremine and also cutting my Zoloft in half because I felt I did not need it………

Realizing I just gave birth less than 2 months prior… BIG MISTAKE…

At that point I knew something was different with me emotionally. I was yelling at the pharmacists and crying for no reason, trying to compare myself to all the moms who looked great right after giving birth, and hating myself and my body…

By the end of September we finally got an offer on our house… crappy offer, but we accepted and it was SOLD; funny thing was that I was not happy about it…

I knew I was going further down emotionally… I started to not want to be around Marley as much… Her strawberry on her forehead was getting bigger and I hated it and did not like the way she looked… how horrible for a mother to have those feelings.

On top of all this, she did not stop crying she cried all of July, August, September and October… it was painful and draining… I did not feel close to her at all and was regretting even having another baby at that time.

I felt lost and lonely… My husband told me I was a horrible mother and that I couldn’t care less about both our children; I felt like I was being kicked while down for the count, my own husband was against me.

He could not understand the pain inside of me. I wanted to get in my car and drive to somewhere till the road ended and never turn back… I was scared to be left alone with both kids, I started having horrible, painful thoughts in my head, I knew they were wrong but they wouldn’t stop.

I was having continuous anxiety attacks, my primary doctor upped my dose of Zoloft and my therapist was nice but I don’t think she got the pain I was in.

Friends and Family started to notice that I was crying from the drop of a hat and just staring off into space for no reason… I could not sleep … Thank God I had Ambien at the time because I would have been committed and not voluntarily… And to top it all off I was the maid of honor for my best friend’s wedding in October… I was running on empty…

Oct 24th 2009, My best friend got married, I looked like an overweight smurf…it was horrific. I did not smile or even try to help my best friend get ready, I could not concentrate, I knew I was at the top of the hill and after that wedding I fell and fell hard.

Driving home from the wedding I had my first anxiety attack… I felt like my skin was turning inside out. Thoughts encompassed me. I was actually on the verge of insanity (at least I thought)… what the hell was wrong with me?

I walked in the door and my husband was like “What is wrong with you?” I tore my 300.00 bridesmaid dress off and threw it in the trash…… I could not sit down, I was sweating, I was crying, I was shaking. I was confused; I didn’t know what was going on with me. My husband was just sitting there watching me pace back and forth with this disgusted look on his face.

That night I took an Ambien, I fell asleep but at 1.00am I woke up in a sheer panic… I could not sleep; my heart was beating out of my chest… Fears of my children were surfacing all around… I walked up and down the stairs, Marley started crying and I started to hate her for that… why does she always need something!!!!!!! It was consuming me.

I was irritated all the time, I had no patience what so ever; feared everything. Feared something bad would happen; what if I dropped her, what if I got in a wreck and she was in the car, what if I lost control? It was the scariest feeling in the world. Where did it come from?

What came and took all my confidence away from me and made me so frightened of being alone with my children or not being fit enough to be their mom, of feeling extreme guilt because I felt as if I would never ever get out of this box I was shoved into.

I was in sheer panic, I felt ashamed for feeling this way, I felt alone and afraid because my husband was not understanding at all. I had no one, absolutely no one who understood and that was the scariest thing.

I finally plucked up the courage to call my mother in law and all I said was “I can’t do it, something is wrong with me, I need help.” It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I had to openly admit that I was incapable of being a mom.

I was having such bad anxiety that I could not do anything, and the more the anxiety the worse my derealization got. The derealization is another story in itself. I could not go anywhere or be seen by anyone other than family members. It was debilitating. My sister in law came over to help me for the rest of the week.

My husband was still very much a cause of my anxiety because of his lack of concern or compassion. I could not go to work; I could not function… It took everything I had to get up; not because I was not getting enough sleep but because I was so scared and my anxiety was through the roof.

I tried to find help by searching the internet and seeing what was out there and it scared the hell out of me… The internet can be more of an enemy than a friend… Time was actually standing still.

I felt like I was finally feeling a little better and getting stronger but knew deep down I was still scared to be alone with the children, not because I would hurt them but because I felt as if I was incompetent as a mother and I would never be able to be a great mom and raise them like I saw other people do.

I was seeing a therapist but she did not have children and did not truly understand how I felt… I felt lost and alone in this big city…

I woke up each morning welcomed with fear and anxiety. My mom who was 6 hours away could only do so much over the phone… I was getting worse and worse…

I did not feel this medication was helping me. The anxiety was getting to be too much and I was falling into a depression…

I felt ashamed; I prayed to GOD every two seconds to help me through the minute, the hour, the day, and the week, “Please Lord let me get through this… I will not be able to live anymore if I have to continue to feel and think this way……”

I have never in my life thought about suicide, but I was thinking that if I cannot escape this than why even exist… I could just take a bottle of my sleeping pills and make all this pain go away… My daughters would be better off without me, everyone would be better off…

Of course looking back now I know that was selfish and horrible, but when you are at such a low point in your life; let’s just say I understand.

Your mind is the most powerful thing and it can play such horrible tricks on you.

December 3rd I was admitted to hospital for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I have actually for the first time in my life reached the absolute bottom. No light exists, I feel like a pariah…I don’t belong but I do belong. I need help and I am getting help. I requested to stay longer so I could attend every group therapy session and all the classes. If I was here than damnit I was going to give it all I got, no matter how hard it is…

I have made a recovery.

I still have my moments of anxiety, and I lost my confidence during all of this… I used to be able to do anything and now some things just scare me… but with the help of the best psychiatrist in the world and my wonderful therapist I am a million times better than I was back in December of 2009.

My PPD started in September-October 2009 and it took me until Feb-March 2010 to start feeling like myself again…

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Sharing the Journey with Ivy Shih Leung


Ivy’s joined the blogging ranks of PPD Survivors recently and I decided to scoop her up for an interview here. She’s been writing some really great stuff over at Ivy’s PPD Blog and is working on a book based on her experience. Check out her blog and enjoy a little slice of her story here!

Tell us about yourself – who is Ivy when she’s not busy being a mom or working?

Hmmmmm……since 3/4 of my life these days revolves around being a mom and working, I have to think a bit on this one. For the past 4 years, I’ve been trying to write a book about my PPD experience. For the past 1-1/2 months I’ve been blogging about my PPD experience, realizing that blogging is an effective means of helping women who are currently suffering from PPD and getting the word out to as many people as possible about PPD in hopes that one day PPD will no longer be so misunderstood, under-diagnosed and under-treated. My motto is: Knowledge is power; information is enabling, and it needs to be shared! Obviously, PPD has shaped my life tremendously. I would like to do more in terms of advocacy and PPD support through telephone support and PPD support groups, as well, but I need to get my book done first.

In terms of what I try to do for fun, I’m a big TV watcher. Nowadays, that’s the cheapest & easiest form of entertainment. I record my favorite TV shows to watch at a convenient time (i.e., after my daughter goes to sleep), like American Idol, Lie to Me, Brothers & Sisters, CSI Miami, Fringe, and Heroes. I try to catch lunch and dinner with friends in NYC a few times a month. I love movies and Broadway musicals, and try to see them as much as I can. I love beaches, shelling, kayaking, and snorkeling in tropical waters. And I love going to craft shows to admire the creativity and talent of artists. I also love to travel, and try to go somewhere different for vacation each year (by plane) and the more exotic the location, the more pictures I take. Last year, my husband and I made it to Athens and Santorini, Greece. I was in photo-op heaven!

You’ve recently joined your voice to increase awareness of PPD. What made you decide to go public with your story?

It was anger of people’s ignorance – those who were my doctors, those whom I’ve talked to and those in the media who say stupid things – that propelled me to write this book. I never would have thought of writing a book had it not been for Tom Cruise’s ignorant ranting that aired on the June 24, 2005 Today Show that “there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.” I suddenly felt the urge to write a book about my battle with postpartum depression. Rather than just get mad at Tom Cruise’s remarks and sit there and do nothing about it, I decided there weren’t enough people out there telling their personal stories. I would channel all the energy stemming from my anger and do something positive and try to help others. I would tell my story in the hopes of helping and educating as many people as possible about this silent and potentially deadly condition.

I want to reach out to moms currently suffering from PPD. With access to personal stories of PPD survivors, the less alone and ashamed mothers suffering from PPD will feel and the more empowered they will be to seek the help they must get. One of the two things I regret about having PPD is the lost opportunity to bond with my daughter to the fullest extent possible in those months where I was transformed into a different person. The other regret is not having found an understanding individual to help me through the darkest days by assuring me that I wasn’t going crazy, I wasn’t alone and I will get better. Because of this, I want to share my story to give hope to those suffering from PPD and help them feel less alone knowing that there are others who have survived PPD.

I want to reach out and validate the experience of moms who have already suffered from PPD, and encourage them to speak up. The more PPD survivors speak up, the more others will know what PPD is and that it’s a real illness that should be taken seriously. You would think that, of all people, fellow women would be able to empathize with you. But that’s not the case at all. The woman who has never had a child before or who had a perfect pregnancy, delivery and baby tend to be as clueless as men about PPD. Those who have neither experienced PPD firsthand or even secondhand, by way of someone they know and therefore witnessing its devastating effects, cannot understand and empathize with those suffering from PPD. Out of ignorance usually comes pre-conceived notions, or myths, that can’t be farther from the truth. We dispel those myths once and for all.

Finally, I want to reach out to all parents-to-be so they can be knowledgeable about PPD, so that if a new mom succumbs to it, they won’t be totally caught off-guard. When they seek treatment from a doctor, they won’t be at a total disadvantage if the doctor doesn’t spend time to 1) explain to them what is going on so, 2) answer questions she will undoubtedly have, and 3) give reassurance that she is not alone in what she is experiencing and she will be fine, though it takes time for the treatment to be effective.

What was childbirth like for you? Was it what you expected or did things get unexpected and frantic?

I had no expectations of childbirth. I was a bit nervous from not knowing what to expect. All I knew was from what you see on TV and in the movies (i.e., women screaming from pain). Labor and delivery actually went pretty smoothly, which was a tremendous relief. It quickly went downhill from there, though, with the discovery that my placenta would not come out. It turned out to be a rare incident of what they refer to as placenta accreta. Three days after delivery, my doctor had to remove my uterus because the placenta had grown into my uterus. If this weren’t done, I would’ve died. I am absolutely sure that it’s not the traumatic delivery experience itself that caused PPD to rear its head. The following series of events led to my insomnia, the first sign of PPD for me:

  1. negative experience in the hospital-e.g., constant sleep interruptions in the hospital, constant moving from one room to another and changes in hospital staff, multiple attempts to replace IVs in my arms/hands, food deprivation (I only had about 2 meals the whole week I was there….otherwise what I had were ice cubes for the most part, plus an occasional broth or jello), below-par treatment of certain hospital staff, searing pain (felt like someone was burning me) in my abdomen that came & went for 2 days after the surgery
  2. constant sleep interruptions from the noises the baby made throughout the night, plus night feedings
  3. baby’s bad case of eczema and cradle cap
  4. baby’s one week colic

For some Moms, the glow after childbirth simply isn’t there. Instead it gets dark, creepy, and eerie. What was your postpartum journey like?

My childbirth experience was not a glowing, happy experience–at least not until I came out of my PPD fog. And it’s unfortunate that I won’t ever get another crack at this, now that I’m missing a uterus. My experience wasn’t exactly dark, creepy or eerie, either. The 7 days immediately following childbirth were spent in the hospital. It was a negative experience that I try never to think about. You can read more about my hospital experience and my descent into PPD, with insomnia followed by panic attacks at my blog: http://ivysppdblog.wordpress.com. My ignorance about PPD (and my doctors’ ignorance) aggravated my situation. Had I known what PPD was, how to identify risk factors for it, realized that insomnia and panic attacks are symptoms of PPD, and proactively tried to keep risk factors to a minimum (e.g., make sure I got round-the-clock help with the baby and housework), I would not have suffered as badly as I did. Hell, I may not have even suffered from PPD!

What did you find the most helpful in climbing out of the gaping hole of your Postpartum Mood Disorder? What did you learn in the process about yourself?

Firstly, my husband’s love and support (see my response to the next question). Second, Paxil, without which I would not have been able to recover in 4 weeks and get on with enjoying my motherhood experience with my baby. My brain biochemistry was so messed up (due to hormonal changes, delivery complications resulting in a major surgery 3 days after delivery, traumatic one-week hospital stay, constant sleep interruptions throughout the night for a month starting from the time I was in the hospital, sleep deprivation and anxiety), that it’s highly unlikely any other treatment would have cured me as quickly. If I had requested my doctors to test for cortisol levels because my body was undergoing so much stress (“fight or flight” response on overdrive), I’m sure they would have been off the charts (which is probably why I had daily hive breakouts on my arms, legs, butt and mouth…some of them were 2″ long welts).

I learned a couple things about myself as a result of my PPD experience. Firstly, I’ve never been depressed before (I’ve always wondered whether I had been previously). Second, I emerged on the other side of the dark tunnel a survivor and a much stronger and smarter person than before. I realize that my calling is now to help educate others about PPD. I would like to help prevent other mothers from going through what I went through. I wouldn’t have realized this calling had I not suffered the way I did.

How did your husband handle your PPD experience? Did it affect your marriage?

He handled my PPD experience like the trooper that he is. He was there for me EVERY step of the way. I never even had to ask him for help. Though he didn’t really know how to comfort me on those really, really dark days where I just wanted to wither up and vanish into thin air, he did all he could to listen to me, give me hugs, come home from work early whenever a panic attack was setting in, and help with the baby, housework and cleaning–on top of having a full-time job. It wasn’t just a heck of an awful experience for me, it was really tough on my husband as well. He became physically and emotionally drained and didn’t have many people he could turn to for advice. This experience showed me how lucky I am to have him for a husband and how lucky my daughter is to have him for her daddy, and how strong our relationship is to have survived what we both went through.

At your blog, you make reference to a book you’re in the process of wrapping up. Where are you in this process and has it been helpful to write it all down?

If during my high school and college years and even up until before I had the baby, someone had told me I’d be writing a book one day, I would’ve laughed at them. I’ve never even kept a diary. It definitely takes life-altering experiences to motivate you to do something that you think might make a difference in someone else’s life. My husband thought writing a book was an excellent idea, and would certainly be a great outlet for my feelings. I’ve been working on my book for the past four years and plan to finish in the next few months. Writing the book has been such a therapeutic experience.

Name three things that made you laugh today.

Though there were definitely more than three things that made me laugh today, the primary ones that come to mind: 1) my daughter makes me laugh in delight and amazement each and every day in terms of some of the words/phrases she uses; 2) my daughter (again – but why would that surprise you) and the way she loves to dance; and 3) I have to admit that I watched the movie “The Shaggy Dog” (starring Tim Allen) with my daughter and I cracked up throughout the movie. Great comic relief after a long day at work!

What do you find the most challenging about parenting? The Least?

I’m not sure if other parents would agree, but just having to think of ways to stimulate her intellectually, socially and athletically is challenging for me. After all, as a parent, I am responsible for her future and I only get one shot at it. The least challenging is loving her…it comes naturally.

Last but not least, let’s say you have just one chance to provide some advice to an expectant mother (new or experienced) about Postpartum Mood Disorders. What would you tell her?

PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth, with 1 out of 8 mothers experiencing it. You wouldn’t know it, though, because most mothers keep their experiences to themselves. Knowledge about PPD & adequate social support to enable mom to get the rest she needs postpartum are CRITICAL! The more knowledgeable and prepared a mom is for situations that can reduce risk factors for PPD-getting adequate social support is just one example-the better off she will be. No woman is completely immune from PPD after having a baby. With the right combination of risk factors and stressors, any woman-even you-could end up suffering from it.